Google Transfers AdWords Account from Consultant to Client in Dispute

Jan 15, 2010 • 8:32 am | comments (18) by twitter Google+ | Filed Under Google AdWords

You are an Google AdWords professional that sets up campaigns and manages those search ad campaigns for your clients. This is a pretty big business these days. But what if your client doesn't pay you for your work? You stop maintaining his account, right?

Yea, I know, you spent all that time setting up the campaigns, doing all the keyword research, testing various ad types and such. You spent countless hours, never to be repaid. But at least the client won't get this hard earned work, since it is under your account, right?


A Google AdWords Help thread has one report of Google confirming that they will often transfer the account to the client, if the client is the one who holds the payment information (credit card) in the account. So in this case, not only did the client get away without paying this AdWords consultant, they also took all the work by the consultant.

The consultant wrote in the thread:

I was hired by a business to do marketing for them so I decided to run a Google AdWords campaign and set it up under my Google account. I had a dispute with them and they then demanded that I hand over this AdWords account to them even though I set it up under my Google account name and that I had spent many hours beyond what they paid me to develop an effective strategy and had information was proprietary to how I marketed this business.

I just got an email stating that Google handed the AdWords account over to them. What are the rules that allow this to happen without Google contacting me first?

AdWordsPro Sarah, an official Google rep, responded:

Im not sure exactly what the rules and regulations are on this because it doesn't happen often. That said, if you were using your client's billing information in the account, we will almost always side with them. As long as they are paying for the clicks, we need to make sure they are protected.

Lesson learned? Protect yourself with contracts and other means before doing all that work.

Forum discussion at Google AdWords Help.

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01/15/2010 02:16 pm

Yet another case where Google pretty much just follow the buck? Anyone really surprised?

Jonathan Hochman

01/15/2010 03:26 pm

Good for Google. It is sleazy for consultants to set up client campaigns in their own accounts. If you want to be paid, get a contract with the client, and sue them if they don't pay you.

Tim Cohn

01/15/2010 03:44 pm

Thanks for the heads up Barry.

Manda Otto

01/15/2010 04:09 pm

Mr. Hochman, I have to disagree with you here: It is not sleazy to do work in your own client management account. This is the purpose of having such an account. Lawsuits cost a lot of money. Money many freelance consultants don't have readily on hand to defend themselves with. While I am against withholding completed and paid-for work, I don't believe protecting your hard anyway possible is "sleazy" in the least. An artist wouldn't give his art away until he has been paid. A graphic designer wouldn't hand over raw files to a client who has yet to pay. I wouldn't hand over hours of calculated research to a client who hasn't paid.

Brian Carter

01/15/2010 04:31 pm

I agree with Manda. It's not realistic for most people to sue, and lawyers are usually the biggest winners in lawsuits. I actually talked to our AdWords Agency Rep about a year ago about this hypothetical, and they said the agency owned the work. The policy must have changed. Good to know.

Brian Carter

01/15/2010 04:42 pm

Here is the email I received from our Google rep back in December 2008: [names redacted] date Fri, Dec 5, 2008 at 4:56 PM subject Re: [#373046815] 2 questions mailed-by signed-by Hi Brian, [irrelevant answer to other question redacted] Regarding your second question, Google does not arbitrate account access issues, so we don't take one stance or another. Issues of access are entirely determined by agencies and end clients, but speaking from my own personal experience, I have seen a lot of agencies create accounts using their own login email addresses as Account Administrators. Then, if an end client decides to terminate or transition service, the agency does not grant access. Of course, I have also seen agencies hand over end client accounts completely, depending on the situation. So, whatever works best for you and your clients.

No Name

01/15/2010 04:49 pm

This is a classic issue that all consultants deal with. The interesting thing is that google acted in this case (and in google's interest because the consultant would of shut the campaign down.)

David Wallace

01/15/2010 04:53 pm

While we don't do a whole lot of paid search marketing, our practice has always been to set up an individual AdWords account which the client can access and ultimately take control of if needed and then manage that campaign through our "Client Center." We make sure we are paid for all set up work and collect a monthly retainer as well. If there is a point where the client no longer wishes to utilize our services, they can take over the management of the account as it is theirs in the first place. This follows the same principle of designing a web site for a client - the site itself becomes their intellectual property and while the designer may provide updates, hosting, etc, for pay, the client ultimately owns the intellectual property.

Jamie @ Brainy

01/15/2010 04:59 pm

For new customers, I try to set up a fair compensation schedule that gives me some level of protection: a down payment on new projects (like 50%), the rest upon launch, and management billing at the beginning of the month, not at the end. And this is where having a merchant credit card account is a good idea. :)

Jeremy Hermanns

01/16/2010 12:22 am

(Mr. Hochman = Shame on you) Are you kidding me? As a 8+ Year PPC Expert, Former Overture/Yahoo Employee, AdAge Agency of the Year Award Winner, and numerous SEM Award recipient (not to mention managing 1Million a month + in spend on GOOGLE ALONE) - you are just wrong. Google IS following the buck, not the legal entity that did the work - this is fraud. Google should be publicly humiliated, this behavior is simply their way of testing how far they can go - let's make sure the leash is short.

Claire Jarrett

01/17/2010 09:36 pm

I can see both points of view - as the consultant I would be seriously irritated, hope they had good terms and conditions that can be legally enforced. I've had a couple of clients recently disappear without paying bills, removing my access to the account without warning and failing to give notice. Really pisses me off.


01/18/2010 03:08 pm

Google's action in this case was wrong. In the case of such a dispute, it looks to me like a saw-off. One party paid for clicks with a card. The other owned the account and quite obviously did the work. The account should therefore be closed, not handed over to the non-paying client. Protect yourself with a contract, sure. BUT, some clients will be sleazy about contracts. We were hired by a major retail based company and built a large portion of their very large campaign. They then fired us within ten days, saying that "all these great people want to work with us." Two of those great people happened to be ex-Googlers. The contract they forced us to sign had a very tight exit clause, so they didn't owe us anything. Remarkably, they kept demanding a refund on some of their modest down payment. Every time I see the glowing PR for this great company and its forward-thinking management, I'd love to spread the word about their sleazeball tactics. Not just the letter, but the spirit, of contracts, should be honored. Anyone with honor knows this.


01/19/2010 04:13 am

I thought we had it clear on the contract, but client seeked Google's assistance and we were knocked down with clause 7 on this page Google said we had to go by their terms and condition.

Arthur Charles Van Wyk

01/19/2010 07:26 pm

This is a very good learning curve for people like myself who's been doing Adsense and still has to graduate to Adwords. So am I getting exactly what's happening here.. Customer has business, hires SEO/SEM to do the keyword research, the competitive analyses, the industry research.. then develops SEO strategy, implements it.. don't get paid for it.. and then has every bit of work snatched and given to nothing-doing, nothing-paying client. So why do they need your name, email address and other details when you register if they're just gonna give your account to the first complaining client willy nilly??


01/25/2010 12:36 pm

OK there has been a great deal of questioning because of this dispute over how to manage PPC on behalf of a client which seems to raise 3 main issues: 1. Managing client billing - I want to pay the whole bill and I invoice them for my time and ppc spend - can I have separate adwords accounts with my billing details and linked via MCC - is this anything to do Manager Defined Spend? Do the linked accounts benefit in anyway from my adwords account performance? 2. Same keywords - Can each of those separate client accounts bid on the same keywords, yes I know advice is that you shouldn't have clients who want the same keywords but in this case I am managing clients with different products but who share some generic keywords 3. Local currency - My original account is in USD but I am UK business - can I change this to sterling? What do you normally do if you have a ppc client you manage for who pays you in sterling/euros but your adwords account is in USD - do you just convert their spend on a ad-hoc basis or you have to take the hit on any currency fluctuations? In the case of dispute, as I understand it full control of individual accounts linked in my MCC is basically based on billing details so if I can put the billing in my name both for ease and security. Each client should just be able to see their campaign if they want to. If they dispute payment they then cannot take 'their' account away and just use all my adwords setup and say take it inhouse? I do cover myself by charging an initial setup charge and then an ongoing monthly fee but it would be good to know where you stand as an agent/manager. Google needs to clarify this! Thanks Saff


02/10/2011 09:17 am

you are definitely right , Rule number 1 in SEM: Always work on Prepay basis using your own credit card


06/12/2012 04:26 pm

Just out of curiosity what type of clients are mostly likely to not pay up? I was thinking if you go for established businesses with good accounting records you should be safe right? But then again I could be completely wrong. It seems like a complete nightmare for freelancers to do this. Perhaps you can get them to sign contracts and pay for 2 months in advance like a lot of rental property/SEOs do.

Himanshu Patel

09/27/2013 06:11 am

I had a company that I recently sold and I need to move my adword account from my personal email address to his (the new owner) email address. Is it possible to do? Please let me know how can I do it?

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